Atlanta’s Former Schools Super Indicted for Cheating

3 Apr

Beverly Hall, Super CheaterGood marks go to Chris Hayes for the inaugural edition of his new MSNBC clone show with a difference, All In w/ Chris Hayes. I tweeted today it lacked some of warmth and roughness of Hayes’ previous rung on the corporate ladder, Up w/Chris Hayes. Hayes opened up the new show with the giant pool of smelly oil in Arkansas and the first panel took a dispassionate look at a standardized testing cheating scandal in Atlanta (first segment and second segment). But, it’s not just Atlanta where bad schools are the norm.

First, evaluations can’t be useful or accurate if they show that teachers are performing “exceptionally well” while students across the country are failing. In Atlanta, New York, and elsewhere, teachers and administrators have been caught gaming the system in order to boost their own performance scores. Full-scale cheating may still be relatively rare, but the discrepancy between the students’ middling results and their teachers’ high marks suggests that the teaching standards may be the problem.

Second, a system where students sit at desks for 13 straight years, moving in lockstep from one grade to the next, doesn’t suit everyone. When a student doesn’t fit in, he shouldn’t just be drugged into docility. We ought to be developing alternative methods of education rather than relying on chemical tools to force students to conform.

MSNBC zeroes in on the No Child Left Behind Act and austerity as the culprits in this national disgrace.

Prosecutors say that the educators cheated on the CRCT in order to reap “the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores.” Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), school districts which turn in low standardized test scores could be seriously penalized and even lose federal aid. Critics of NCLB and other recent school reform measures argue that the Atlanta cheating scandal is not an isolated incident of criminal activity.

“We don’t condone cheating, but when you have high-stakes testing, which are one-shot deals that don’t tell you whether a child is going to fail or succeed, the whole setup in terms of No Child Left Behind was unfair to children, unfair to educators,” Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers said to MSNBC Monday.

Since NCLB, signed in 2001, first mandated high-stakes testing in every state and tied it to federal funding, a wave of cheating scandals has swept the nation. In 2011, USA Today investigated standardized test scores in six states and Washington, D.C., and found “1,610 examples of anomalies in which public school classes—a school’s entire fifth grade, for example—boasted what analysts regard as statistically rare, perhaps suspect, gains on state tests.”

Months later, education reporter Dana Goldstein argued that “the most egregious practices in Atlanta…are part of a national, and indeed a historic trend, one that is bolstered by No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on pressuring educators to produce spectacular test results.”

In Georgia, the pressure to hold onto federal funds may have been exacerbated by state-level defunding of the education system. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Georgia has cut education spending per student by 14.8% since 2008. The Chatatanooga Times Free Press, a local paper from the neighboring state of Tennessee, reports “public education in Georgia has missed out on $5.5 billion in funding since 2003 because of the General Assembly’s austerity cuts.”

That said, the indictment for racketeering for Beverly Hall, former Atlanta schools superintendent, and eleven others, has prompted another media circus. The jail bonds and the orange jumpsuits are excessive. “’I think this whole thing has turned into something rather ridiculous,” [Attorney Warren] Fortson told reporters outside the jail. “They didn’t treat Al Capone like this.’”

Meanwhile, Chicago’s teachers, parents, and students are trying to do something constructive about public schools in Chicago, but the city mayor is stymieing reforms. The national media hasn’t turned that battle into a cause celebre.


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2 Responses to “Atlanta’s Former Schools Super Indicted for Cheating”

  1. liberaleb 3 April 2013 at 10:10 am #

    The sad thing about this entire situation is that it gives creedence to the Right about their ridiculous views on Public Schools.

    • Hume's Bastard 3 April 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      There’s always the hope – deluded, I know – that local views will rise to the top and the mainstream editors will have to acknowledge movements like in Chicago or Seattle.

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